49/51 by Björn Larsson, reviewed by Johan Brink

In our bedroom there´s a photograph of my wife´s grandparents house, an aerial view from Hälsingland, on the east coast, in the middle of Sweden. You can see the same kind of pictures on the cover of The Swedish photographer and artist Björn Larsson’s new publication 49/51. He combines old aerial photographs of Swedish farms as it once was, with new pictures of abandoned houses and barns falling apart.


200 years ago, 90 percent of Sweden’s population lived in the countryside. Today it is almost the contrary, 85 percent live in urban areas. This urbanization took off in the early 1900s and has since then continued. Around 1930, we came to the demographic break point, when as many lived in the countryside and in the cities. A few years later, the city took over the lead.
This is the theme for Björn Larsson’s 49/51, the breaking point of people leaving the countryside where farms are abandoned and falling apart. Hence the cryptic title 49/51. 49% rural, 51% in the city.


Björn Larsson takes over where the Swedish photographer Sune Jonsson finished. The farms, villages and the people that he documented in the books “village with the Blue House” and “The Great Migration”. In the latter book Sune Jonsson portraits the depopulation of areas in Västerbotten (in the north part of Sweden) in the area around Lycksele and Vilhelmina.


The starting point for Björn Larsson is old hand colored aerial photos from areas in Sweden (like the landscape Sune Jonsson documented). Images that became very popular after World War II, long before Google Street view. But far from everyone could afford to buy the photos, they were sold for SEK 135, which was quite a lot of money in the fifties.


Björn Larsson has photographed houses from the same surroundings as the aerial photographs. Now they are abandoned, the barns have collapsed of its own solitude. People left for the city. The design of the publication, also seems to fall apart, it´s fragile with it´s loose pages printed in web offset. A carton and a rubber band holds the pages together. There is no text that explains what happened to the people who left. (except a list of what I think is the old farms that no longer exist). But Björn Larsson’s pictures speaks for themselves. Abandoned buildings have a voice, they show clearly that they miss the people who cut down the trees, sawed them into planks, painted them with red paint and nailed them together into barns for hay, cows or the tractor.


There is a kind of sadness about the images, but at the same time there´s hope that the wind will turn around, people move back and take advantage of the resources we have around us. But the question is: Will it ever happen? Over time the majority of the world’s population will live in big cities. Who will then remain in the small villages and the house where the road ends?


49/51 by Björn Larsson is published by Journal, and can be purchased here.


My name is Johan Brink. I work as a freelance copywriter in Sweden with photography as my biggest interest. I enjoy collecting photobooks, once in a while curating exhibitions and taking my own photographs almost every day (you will find them at Instagram) then and then having lectures talking about photobooks and photography.